Remembering the New Year’s flood
December 28, 2006
As New Year’s Day 2007 is now only a few days away, I have one question to ask all of you who have been in Northern Nevada for 10 years or more. “Where were you on New Year’s Day in 1997?” I am sure that most of us remember that day very well and have some sort of story to tell about that day and the days that followed.
Let me step back a week to Christmas 1996 and the tremendous amount of snow that fell all over Northern Nevada and California. I had just moved to Nevada a few years before, from the mountains in northern California. I had experienced large amounts of snowfall in short periods of time in the past, but this particular storm dropped a massive amount of snow in just a 24-hour period. I remember thinking as I looked out the living room window watching nothing but a “white-out” of snow … “Gee, I hope Santa has headlights on that sleigh “cuz” Rudolph’s nose just isn’t strong enough for this mess.” When it was all said and done, it was several days before we could even get our four-wheel drive truck out of the driveway.
The weather turned nice, but as the new year approached, the forecast was for another storm and there was a collective groan from everyone at the thought of more snow when we hadn’t even made a dent in what was already on the ground. But this storm came in warm and only the highest elevations saw any flakes of the white stuff. Instead, we got rain … lots and lots of rain.
As I sat in a cozy living room by the fireplace on New Year’s Eve, watching the festivities on television, I didn’t comprehend what I was seeing as the first reports of the Truckee River were shown rising over its banks in certain places of downtown Reno. I remember thinking “Wow, that doesn’t look too good,” but I still didn’t have the vaguest idea as to just how bad things could really get.
On New Year’s Day I was awakened before dawn by the sound of what seemed like a river right outside the house and in the dim light of pre-dawn I could see that one of the stanchions for our front gate was uprooted and laying across the driveway and thinking “that’s going to be a problem getting that mess cleaned up!” but I still couldn’t see what was causing the rushing water sound, and still, it kept on raining. As dawn put more light on the whole scene, I realized, in total, the devastation. The river sounds I woke up to were the sound of a (normally dry) flash-flood drainage ditch surrounding our property, filled to capacity and overflowing toward the house and, to make matters worse, the huge driveway drainage pipe was not big enough to allow for that much runoff and so the water went over the top, washing out the driveway in the process. This, in turn, stranded us and our vehicle as it destroyed the only entrance/exit to our property.
Preoccupied with our own problems, it wasn’t until afternoon that the full scope of the devastation all around us became clear, making our situation petty in comparison. The Truckee River had escaped its banks and was now claiming blocks of real estate in downtown Reno and most of the industrial area of Sparks. The Carson River, which I had considered to be only a trickle most of the time I had been in Nevada, unleashed her power and was spreading fingers of devastation across most of Carson Valley and further downstream to destroy parts of Dayton as well. The Capital City streets were buried in a sea of silt coming from the mountains west of the city.
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Further south of Douglas County, the Walker River, not to be outdone in this grand display of “Mother Nature’s revenge,” tore through the Walker Canyon, stripping miles of “manmade” roadways and added landslides of rock from the mountains high above the canyon to the devastation. The “angry Walker” spread its banks in the Antelope Valley and took with it bridges, farm and ranch lands, homes and businesses, and to some of us, most devastating of all, the loss of the tiny little resort of Mountain Gate at the mouth of the Walker River Canyon.
From the Antelope Valley the Walker continued, carrying with it, silt and debris as it turned Topaz Lake into a murky brown color that would eventually kill the fish in the lake as it passed through on its way to Mason Valley and Yerington where it expended most of its strength by overflowing its banks in the Valley and flooding Yerington.
It was truly a storm to remember. When it passed and the damage was completely realized, it was completely humbling to behold. For a short time Carson Valley was like an island with no way out of town unblocked. The Walker River Canyon, the major Highway 395 corridor, would be impassable through Coleville and Walker for several months. It would be a couple years before fishing would again revive in Topaz Lake thanks to efforts of community restocking and a fish-raising program instigated by Chuck and Linda Fields at the Topaz Lake Landing and Marina.
So for New Year’s Day 2007, it’s looking fairly safe from worries of a 10-year déjà vu. The scars of 10 years ago are not as visible anymore, only the memories remain and for some of us, more painful than others. May those events never repeat themselves in such a catastrophic event.
Have a safe and happy New Year’s eve and day and look forward to the year ahead. Keep on, keepin’ on in 2007.